Academy Beijerinck Premium awarded to original thinker in virology

3 March 2020

This year, the Academy Beijerinck Premium has been awarded to Jelke Fros (1985). Fros is receiving the Beijerinck Premium for his original virological research. The jury particularly praises the current line of research he is working on at the Laboratory of Virology in Wageningen. A line in which he links research data on mammalian, insect and plant viruses.

Which virus is dangerous?

All viruses are submicroscopically small, they can only survive and reproduce by interfering in the growth process of their host (a plant, invertebrate or vertebrate). By far the majority of virologists target one or closely related viruses of the 4,400 species now known, for example the HIV, polio or SARS virus. Fros focuses on much larger groups of viruses. He is particularly interested in virus families that occur in many different hosts. What are the similarities, where are the differences, which viruses in such a family occur only in insects or plants and how is their hereditary material composed? Fros shows that in the hereditary material of mammalian viruses, certain combinations of two successive building blocks are strongly suppressed, and he has data showing that this helps to avoid certain innate defence mechanisms in their host. 

Developing vaccines more effectively

After gaining his PhD, Fros worked at Oxford and Wageningen universities. In those four and a half years, he made significant discoveries about the combinations of two successive building blocks in the hereditary material of viruses. In many virus families, he observes that the viruses use the same frequencies of building block pairs as the host. Based on his data, it is now easier to predict after a general screening whether a virus found in a mosquito is dangerous to mammals, including humans. This is an important development in the control of mosquito-borne diseases, such as Dengue or Zika. In future research, Fros is intending to use his findings to develop safe, effective vaccines. 

Academy Beijerinck Premium recognition welcome

Fros is delighted with the recognition of his work by the Academy Beijerinck Premium. His current research is project-related, but Fros hopes to be able to continue his work on a long-term basis. The Academy Beijerinck Premium is awarded annually to a post-doc researcher who is conducting outstanding virus-related research at a Dutch research institution.